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Hockey: Broncos to visit CFIA

Conor Kelly | Friday, November 2, 2012

While Western Michigan may not carry the cachet that some of a Michigan or Ohio State, the No. 11 Broncos have become a worthy and admired opponent of the No. 8 Irish over the last few seasons.

That rivalry will continue tonight when the Broncos visit the Compton Family Ice Arena for a CCHA matchup. The game will mark the third CCHA contest for the Irish (5-1, 2-0-0-0 CCHA) and the first for the Broncos (3-1, 0-0-0-0).

“Because of the level at which they’ve played over the last few years and their location, I think it becomes a bit of a natural rivalry,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “It’s not so much chippy as intense. They play an up-tempo style and we try to as well. There’s bound to be some collisions.”

Irish junior goaltender Steven Summerhays said he agreed with Jackson and echoed his sentiment that the Irish have prepared for a physical and gritty opponent.

“Every time we play them, they are very physical games,” Summerhays said. “They have developed into a very good team that is well coached over the last few years. I think both teams have a lot of skilled and hard working players, so it makes for an exciting game for the fans and for us.”

Summerhays, recently named the CCHA Gongshow Goaltender of the Week, acknowledged the difficulty of preparing for a team that likes to get a lot of bodies to the net for second-chance opportunities, something the Broncos have excelled at in recent years.

“It makes it tough because that’s not something that you want to simulate in practice, guys driving the net hard and crashing into you,” Summerhays said. “If you have the whole defensive corps playing well, as we have, and blocking shots in front of you and you just have to worry about making the first save, it makes it easier.”

On offense, the Irish have gotten early contributions up and down the lineup from all four lines, a positive return on Jackson’s decision to move junior captain Anders Lee to center and split up the Minnesota native and former running mate junior center TJ Tynan. The pair proved to be one of college hockey’s most dynamic combinations the past two years, but Jackson has had the two juniors centering their own lines early in the season.

“When everyone’s scoring for us, Anders and Tynan don’t feel like they have to score every game for us to win,” Summerhays said.

While Jackson noted the improved scoring depth has helped the team in the early going, he said Lee and Tynan are still two key cogs in the offense as evidenced by their combined eleven points on the year.

“They probably feel less pressure because other guys are producing,” Jackson said. “But the pressure to be a productive player isn’t any less. They want the puck on their stick, and they want to score.”

While this is the last year for the Irish in the CCHA, the matchup with Western Michigan isn’t going anywhere any time soon. The Broncos will participate in Notre Dame’s tournament next year and a home-and-home series is planned beginning in 2014, ensuring the rivalry will continue even as the Irish transition to Hockey East next year.

“That happens a lot when you play another good team a lot, and over the last few years it’s developed into a bit of a grudge match,” Lee said. “This team is one of the hardest working teams in our conference, and we have to be ready to match that.”

Tonight’s game starts at 7 p.m. at the Compton Family Ice Arena. Sunday’s game begins at 5 p.m.


Contact Conor Kelly at [email protected]